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Zen Meditation

By Ron Martin

Part 4

Chapter 6: Free Will?

Examples have been given as to how language contributes to the delusion of a separate self, due to its requirement of a subject and an object. But language did not create Mind, it was Mind that created language, so the delusion must have preceded language.

This is not surprising because a dog, without having language to complicate its mental processes, can also get caught up in a similar situation although, since we cannot know what a dog thinks, we cannot say that it proves anything, only that it is a useful analogy.

When a dog is undivided in its mind it lives according to its nature and its life functions efficiently and uninhibited; but the moment it becomes conscious of its tail it has a problem — a desirable object that has to be chased and caught. But the tail cannot be caught — the faster the dog goes round in circles to catch it the faster the tail moves away. It is so tantalisingly close and yet forever out of reach! And what a ridiculous sight it is when a dog behaves in this way. We laugh and think that only a stupid animal could believe it possible to chase and catch itself. The dog had no problem when the tail functioned as part of the totality of existence; it never failed to wag when the dog was pleased, or droop when it was sad. Because the dog was not thinking, “I am pleased, therefore I must wag my tail” or, “I am sad, therefore I must let my tail droop”, it did not prevent these actions. There was pleasure and the tail wagged; there was sadness and the tail drooped.

Yet we believe that unless ‘I’ want some eggs they will not be obtained from the shop, or unless ‘I’ steer that bicycle it will go off the road and into the ditch. What is even more worrying to us is that we believe that unless we keep a close watch on our ‘tail’ it will do all sorts of nasty things; and so we devise a list of instructions, or commandments, to tell it what to do, and if it does not carry them out it must be punished. And our fears are confirmed. The closer we scrutinise the activities of our ‘tail’ the more we find it disobeying the rules, until we can stand it no longer and can get relief only by doing penance (self-sacrifice). If we are monks in a monastery we might even take a whip and flagellate ourselves until blood flows from the wounds.

We find it hard to leave our ‘tail’ alone and let it function as part of the totality of existence; we identify it as a separate object and then chase round in circles trying to make it acceptable to ‘God’. Until we achieve this aim we are unhappy and think that failure is due to lack of will, so we try still harder. Eventually we collapse through sheer exhaustion and cry out for a Saviour to make us whole. At this very moment of giving up the chase we ‘miraculously’ become whole — we have been Saved. Yet our ‘tail’ was with ‘God’ all the time — it was only our partial awareness that made it seem separate. Like the dog, we cannot stand outside ourselves and see why we are making such a mess of our lives, and so we continue to construct more and more concepts, which serve only to perpetuate the chase for our ‘tail’.

For instance, we have the concept of goodness, meaning self-less behaviour; but if ‘I’ intend to do a self-less act this is a logical impossibility. The good person is one who is unaware of doing good; if he was aware of it we would not call him good at all, but a do-gooder, or a self-righteous hypocrite. But, if he is unaware of doing good, what is the point in him having rules of conduct, he would still behave the same way without them.

All the time we think about this problem it continues to haunt us. Even if we try to behave selflessly, by denying that there is a separate self, we have to be conscious of the self in order that there can be a denial. (It would be like telling ourselves that provided we do not think of bananas we would be ‘good’ — we would have to try so hard not to think of bananas that they would dominate our thoughts). Furthermore, to say that because the idea of a separate self is an illusion the self does not need rules of conduct only makes matters worse, because it implies that we are free to do anything. The dog is not free to do anything, whether it is conscious of its tail or not. If the dog is conscious of it, then the ridiculous gyrations occur; but if the dog is not conscious of it the tail wags when the dog is pleased and droops when it is sad. In neither case does the dog control what happens — it just happens! In the first case, he does not decide to go round in circles — it is the consequence of the desire to catch his tail — nor can he desire not to have the desire, since this would require an infinite series of desires, each one requiring a decision to decide. And, in the second case, he does not decide to wag his tail, or let it droop, since he is not conscious that the tail exists.

This is why the question as to whether our will is free, or determined, is so perplexing. If we look at it one way it appears to be free, but if we look at it another way it appears to be determined. We do not stop to ask ourselves whether the question, itself, makes sense, we presume that we have a will — yet without the delusion of a separate self we would understand that there is no will to act, there is only action. If we must have a concept to prepare ourselves for the first deliberate step to Enlightenment it might help if we visualise our ‘True Self’, or ‘Greater Self’, as being nothing more than consciousness, or experience, in which there is no differentiation between anything. The experience is not of anything, or by anything — it is just experience.

By doing this we start from a point of certainty — we know we have consciousness; we do not know anything else, since everything other than pure experience is inferred. Above all, we must not be fobbed off with any theory, no matter how appealing it is, since we must be satisfied with nothing short of absolute certainty — we must KNOW.

Chapter 7: On Meditation

The experimental experiences mentioned in previous chapters have pointed towards what is central to all Schools of Buddhism — meditation. It is only in recent years that meditation has been practised to any notable extent in the West and the vast majority of people are completely ignorant of what it entails. Even Christian so-called meditation is far removed from meditation as practised in Buddhism, since it invariably involves meditating upon concepts. However beneficial this may be to those of the Christian faith it is not much help as a means of gaining intuitive understanding. Christian mystics, like Meister Eckhart, appear to have broken through into a deeper form of meditation, akin to that of Buddhism, but they are few in number and did not find favour with the Holy See. Even now, in spite of Bishop Robinson’s Honest to God, there must be very few Christians who can accept Eckhart’s dictum that we must “seek nothing, not even God” — this must strike most Christians as being the very opposite of what Christianity is supposed to be about.

To most people in the West, therefore, the commencement of meditation is like entering unfamiliar territory. That many have been there before is no help if the signposts they have left behind are in Sanskrit, or Pali. Fortunately there are many books in English on the subject, some of them translations of Eastern texts, so there is no point in covering here ground already traversed by writers better qualified to teach meditation. However, all meditational practices within the various Schools of Buddhism are derived from certain basic principles. It is these fundamentals that must be understood before proceeding to any derived form.

Mostly the derivations have been developed to deal with specific circumstances, or to fit in with certain cultural traditions. Some of the specialised practices (such as the cemetery meditations) are dangerous, unless conducted under the direction of an experienced and qualified teacher, who is accepted as such by the Order to which he belongs. But the basic form is all that is needed initially and can be sufficient, if practised regularly, to give both insight into the nature of existence and the calm, peaceful mind which comes from that insight.

Let us try another experiment. Go out into the garden again and look at the lawn. Once more you have the vision of green grass, and you know that you see green grass; this is not a theory — you KNOW. But wait! — you are thinking, “the grass is green” or, “I see green grass” — you have slipped into theorising again, since you do not KNOW the grass is green, nor do you KNOW that there is a self that sees green grass. This is not the nature of your experience — your experience is purely that of seeing green grass. Of course, if you have wandered away from the experiment by constructing these concepts then you could bring yourself back to it by recognizing that there is an idea that the grass is green, or that there is an idea that ‘I’ see green grass, since the idea is experienced and therefore you KNOW it exists.

Put into words the technique of meditation seems terribly complicated and virtually impossible to accomplish successfully — yet a baby can do it! The baby finds it so easy to have a pure experience, because it has not reached the stage where its mind has been corrupted by concepts, but we have to start by unravelling ideas from reality. In other words, we must try to overcome the ‘original sin’ of the mind.

As previously mentioned, meditation is central to all Schools of Buddhism; it is also the foundation of the Buddha’s way to Enlightenment. To the Enlightened One the grass is still green, the birds still sing and that dustbin still overflows with filthy rubbish, but his experiences are detached from the kind of concepts we weave around the same experiences. He does not judge an experience to be either good or bad — it just IS. He does not have thoughts about love and hate, because such thoughts require a subject and an object, and to him there is no experience of a subject and an object. If he comes across a person in distress he helps that person naturally, efficiently and effectively, without thinking, “I am helping this person”; just as a bitch suckles its pups and protects them from danger, naturally, efficiently and effectively, without needing to think how or why it is being done.

“Aha!”, you might say, “there is a difference here, because the bitch’s behaviour is instinctive, whereas the Enlightened One has to choose to help the person in distress”. If you believe this, even now, then before proceeding to the next chapter you should read the previous chapters again. If, having done this, you still come to the same conclusion then there is little point in reading further. Perhaps a different book would help.

Ron wrote an extension to Chapter 13 of this book, answering readers’ questions.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 To be continued...

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